The biggest deficit Washington faces today isn’t financial, President Obama argued Monday at the White House. It’s “a lack of faith in the American people.”
Obama took to the Rose Garden to encourage passage of a bill that would extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. The bill is currently stalled. Republicans have asked that the bill be offset by stimulus dollars and cuts to bloated government agencies. Democrats have refused to offset the bill, calling the lapse of unemployment insurance an emergency.
“Even as we work to jump-start growth in the private sector, we also have another responsibility. To offer emergency assistance to those who desperately need it,” Obama said. “Over the pass few weeks, a majority of senators have tired not once, not twice, but three times to extend unemployment benefits. Each time, the president continued, “a minority” blocked the bill’s passage.
This refusal to pass an unpaid insurance bill “reflects a lack of faith in the American people,” according to Obama. “They’re not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. It’s time to stop holding workers hostage. It’s time do what’s right. Not for the next election, but for the middle class,” the president said.
Most Republicans agree. The fight over unemployment insurance benefits has not been over whether or not the recipients are deadbeats, but whether the people pushing for the bill are. Senate Republicans proposed offsetting unemployment benefits four times in the month of June. According to Senate aides in both parties, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell settled on an offset extension in March, but the deal was rejected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Minutes before the president’s speech began, Republican insiders began circulating comments Obama made in November 2009, the last time Congress was faced with passing an extension of unemployment benefits:
“I would also like to announce I just signed into law a bill that will help grow our economy, save and create new jobs and provide relief to struggling families and businesses,” Obama said then. “Now, it’s important to note that the bill I signed will not add to our deficit. It is fully paid for, and so it is fiscally responsible.”
Senate Republicans have asked multiple times in the last two months why this bill is any different.